Rule 7: When it comes to pitchers, forget most of what you just learned in Rules 1-6
Six rules for hitters and only two for pitchers? It’s not so much an imbalance as a reflection of the fact that pitchers are harder to get in focus. Here’s a handful of reasons:
- Hitters, as I said in Rule 1, play “offense” and “defense” at the same time. They must be able to produce while also employing plate skills to defend against what the pitcher wants to do. The pitcher has no such problem. He can throw whatever he likes. The need for “all-around” skills is less evident.
- Age development matters less. I will take it to the bank that hitters who do not display the ability to produce against their pitching peers by age 23 have virtually no shot of long-term MLB success. It just doesn’t happen. But pitchers … they can learn a new pitch, solve a delivery issue or add velocity and suddenly be completely different.
- There is less data. For whatever reason, some of the minor-league pitching data is not reported (particularly, extra-base hits allowed) for years prior to 2011, and that’s something that just needs to be worked around.
That being said, we can get a handle on a couple of things about pitchers.
First, we can measure “command/control,” which is the pitcher’s ability to throw strikes, avoid balls, throw “pitcher’s pitches” and avoid “hitter’s pitches.” In other words, the ability to gain advantage on the hitter (strikes, not balls) while not getting burned (a “pitcher’s pitch,” not a “hitter’s pitch”).
Second, we can measure “stuff,” which is, in my parlance, simply the pitcher’s ability to get outs and avoid damage. “Stuff” in my book is “content-neutral.” You can throw 99 or 82, be a “ground-ball” expert or a “fly-ball” guy. It doesn’t matter to me. What matters is getting outs and limiting the hitter’s ability to produce offense.
For hitters, I had two main things: “production” and “plate skills,” with “production” keyed to the SLG portion of OPS and “plate skills” keyed to the OBP portion. For pitchers, the two main elements are essentially the mirror images. “Stuff” is what limits “production” (and thereby keeps “SLG against” low), and “command/control” is what negates “plate skills” (and thereby keeps “OBP against” low).
For hitters, the Rules stated that a prospect miner ought to look for guys who had both “plate skills” and “production,” but for pitchers, that “all-around-ness” is not necessary. It helps to have both, but a pitcher can succeed with one but not the other, particularly in relief.